The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is “not sustainable” and international observers and the New Delhi-based diplomatic corps should be allowed to visit the region to make a first-hand assessment, Finland’s foreign minister Pekka Haavisto has said.
Haavisto, who was on a four-day visit to India during which he held talks with external affairs minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday, is the second leader from a European Union country after German Chancellor Angela Merkel to express concern about the situation in Kashmir while in the country.
Kashmir, Haavisto said, figured in his discussions with Jaishankar during a meeting in Helsinki in September and again on Wednesday, and Finland had expressed “concern over the situation, regarding the human rights, regarding the detention of politicians which is prolonged…and the safety of the people in the region”.
He said in an interview: “We have heard the Indian explanation of the actions that have been taken but of course the situation is not sustainable.”
Finland holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU), the body that adopts laws and coordinates policies, till December. In September, the EU expressed concern about restrictions imposed in Kashmir after the government stripped the state of its special status.
Haavisto said he had told Jaishankar that international and UN observers or the diplomatic corps from New Delhi should be allowed to visit Kashmir and “see with their own eyes what is going on and look into those concerns which have been raised”. This, he said, will help “increase the confidence” of the world community.
“For us, because there are many sources of information and since you don’t have people who are eyewitness to the situation and who could tell about it – international observers and so forth – we really must rely on the possibility of international observers, the UN, human rights observers and others to do their work and look with neutral eyes and meet people and so forth,” he said.
Though India recently allowed a group of 23 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), many of them from far right parties, to travel to Kashmir, the EU distanced itself from the visit.
Haavisto underscored the need for dialogue between India and Pakistan but made it clear any initiative in this regard would have to come from the two sides. “We are very much looking forward on any good news on possible talks and engagement between India and Pakistan to solve these issues, and I think the international community is always available to support but the initiative has to come from the region,” he said.
Haavisto also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, Africa and Ukraine and India’s Indo-Pacific policy during his meeting with Jaishankar. The two sides explored the possibility of working together in Africa for the development of youth and creating jobs, he said. Finland and India also have similar views on strengthening multilateralism, he added.
The minister, who was accompanied by delegations from Finland’s business and education sectors, also discussed a wide range of issues, including green cities, artificial intelligence, climate change and 5G with Jaishankar and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Nokia Networks of Finland is among the few global companies offering 5G solutions and while the technology has many possibilities for consumers, countries have to be careful about its adoption because of concerns related to privacy, he said.